Roger Mumford unveiled a new version of his development plan, one that calls for a park along Maple Avenue between White and Monmouth streets, seen at right in the rendering above. (Photo by John T. Ward. Click to enlarge)
By JOHN T. WARD
The two finalists vying for the right to redevelop Red Bank’s White Street parking lot both raised concerns about their ability to meet a non-negotiable condition set by downtown merchants: that a new garage add no fewer than 500 public parking spaces to the 273-already there.
Moreover, one of the builders insisted that a definitive study to determine the actual parking deficit downtown is needed, a claim that some business owners have dismissed as an unnecessary speed bump en route to what they contend is a decades-overdue parking solution.
The occasion was the first issue-specific government forum on what do with the 2.3-acre parking lot since five developers presented competing concept plans in May. Since then, the borough council winnowed the pack down to two: borough-based Yellow Brook Properties, owned by Roger Mumford, and BNE Real Estate Group.
Early on in what turned out to be a two-hour airing, held at the Red Bank Primary School, Mumford unveiled sweeping changes to his original concept. The new plan adds a park on two private lots he has under contract: the Atlantic Glass property at the corner of White Street and Maple Avenue and the Buona Sera parking lot at Maple and Monmouth Street. It also showed 230 apartments and “limited retail” in structures topping out at six stories, half the height of a building included in the earlier version that was sharply criticized as out of place downtown.
“I’m a pretty flexible and creative person, I believe,” Mumford told the audience of about 80 residents and merchants. “I continue to be interested in this project, as shown by the fact that I reinvent myself for these meetings after I’ve heard what went on at the last ones.”
Jonathan Schwartz, of BNE, showed plans unchanged since May. They call for 204 rental apartments compromising four stories above a two-story parking facility, and a 700-space standalone parking garage. But he told the audience that his firm was willing to make changes in response to public input.
“Projects like this are basically what we do all day,” he said.
The park portion of Mumford’s plan won praise from many of the night’s 27 commenters. But the fact that neither plan delivered on a demand — that it provide 500 public spaces, over and above whatever parking need would be generated by other new development on the White Street lot, without the use of spaces “shared” by residents and shoppers — proved thornier.
“The renderings are beautiful,” said Jay Herman, a downtown landlord. “I have no criticism except for the main event: these don’t come close to providing 500 net new spaces.”
Instead, he said, the proposed apartments in both plans would absorb far more of the roughly 900 spaces in each plan than the developers are projecting, he said.
“You don’t even have one car per apartment. You have about a half a car per apartment. That’s a disaster,” said Herman. “That will take our very acute problem and make it much worse.”
“If we can’t get 500 net new — truly net new — then the business community will have to oppose this. It’s just not what we’ve been talking about,” he said.
Both developers, however, said that the true parking demand was unknown. “The traffic studies Red Bank has done are dated and they are not qualified studies” and “not worth the paper they’re written on,” said Mumford.
Despite the demand by merchants that there be no sharing, or alternating use of spots between site residents and shoppers, “you can’t ignore shared parking,” Mumford said. But even without it, both his and and BNE proposal would net the site at least 300 new spaces, he said
“If you overbuild this parking garage, you’re going to end up with a situation where you’re going to be maintaining a structure that, over time, will not have use,” he said.
Schwartz said he agreed.
“It’s got to be economically feasible. To think that a builder can come in an build 1,200 spaces, and half the amount of units, this project will never get built,” he said. “I would imagine that even having an additional three or four hundred, and not netting 500, is better than having the existing surface parking lot.”
“There have to be demand studies, revenue studies” in order for builders to obtain financing for their projects, Mumford said earlier in the meeting.
His proposal has an estimated $80 million price tag, including about $65 million in non-garage investment. Schwartz said the BNE plan would cost about $65 million.
Resident James Coakley said that with eight large-scale developments in Monmouth County threatening to draw away businesses and customers, “we have to have stuff like this to keep the downtown vibrant.”
The meeting began shortly after the semimonthly meeting of the town council at borough hall, where the governing body voted unanimously to rescind a redevelopment plan adopted last December for the 2.3-acre White Street parking lot. The action, announced two weeks ago, was the keystone of a “compromise” by council Democrats and Republicans that they said would have the added benefit of neutralizing a lawsuit by former council member Cindy Burnham.
Michael Ballard, a Democrat and school board member who’s running for council in November’s election, criticized the scheduling of the parking meeting, which occurred the same night as a back-to-school event for parents at the middle school.